Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Today is the day

...that I am going to start working on my novel again.  I may not be able to catch up, but I'm going to at least hold myself accountable to trying!

I've been wading through a lot of work the last few days.  I had a few things I'd intended to do over the weekend, but I got caught up reading, and got a little behind.  I'm finally about caught up, though, so I plan to sit down with my novel this evening.

I did the math, and with just over 17,000 words, I would have to write 2,358 words every day in order finish on time.  I think for now I will set my daily goal at 2,000, and try to get a couple of 5,000-word days in.  I did one 8,000-word day my first year (or was it 10,000 words?), and talk about burnout — but I think I could handle a couple of 5,000-word days.  Maybe, if I can get ahead on my client work, I can actually devote an entire day or two to my novel!

I've said before that my main goal is really to finish my novel this time around, so that I can finally revise it and start on the next one, but it would be really nice to have a 2010 NaNoWriMo winner badge to go with the completion of my own private goals.  I haven't "won" NaNoWriMo since the first year I did it, in 2006, and it would be awfully nice to change my "losing" trend.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Published NaNoWriMo novels you might have heard of

Things are not all fine in NaNoWriMo land.  I added to my word count later Friday night, after blogging about my few bad days, getting to 17,109 words.  And there I have stalled.  The problem was the weekend — we were busy, and I read with most of my spare time, not to mention I've had lots of paying writing to attend to.  Hopefully I can start working daily on my novel again, starting tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is a link to a wonderful little list of published NaNoWriMo authors.  How many of these writers or authors have you heard of?  Here is my (short) list of the ones I recognize:

* Amelia Atwater-Rhodes - I read her first novel in my YA lit class in college.  I could tell she was very young when she wrote it, though, so I wonder if her writing has matured any.  Her published NaNo novel was Persistence of Memory.

* Sara Gruen - Her NaNo novels, Flying Changes and Water for Elephants, are both really popular.  I've had a friend at the barn recommending both to me (as well as a third one, Riding Lessons) for almost a year now.  I'll definitely have to read them now that I know they are NaNo novels!

There are a few others on the list that seem vaguely familiar, but I don't know where I recognize them from.  What names or books on the list do you recognize?  Any surprises?

Friday, November 12, 2010

A few bad days

I've fallen a little behind on my novel the last few days.  It has nothing to do with my novel — no writer's block or anything — and everything to do with my time (or lack thereof).

On Wednesday, I had a very full day, very little of which involved working.  I spent an hour in the morning driving back and forth to the barn and taking Panama's blanket off.  Then I had lunch with my mom and sister, and spent the rest of the afternoon with my mom.  By the time evening rolled around, I hadn't gotten any of my regular work done, let alone my novel!  And while that is one of the things I love about freelancing — being able to change my schedule around when needed — it did mean that I had to spend my evening working on client projects rather than my own.

Yesterday was supposed to be my catch-up day, but it didn't turn out that way, for reasons I don't quite understand.  It was the perfect day for it — it was supposed to snow (it didn't, or at least not very much), so I planned to stay inside all day and work.  Ha!  It took me all day to get done what should have taken a few short hours.  I just don't know what happened!

I did get a little done on my novel last night — but, I'm afraid, only a little.  As in, 700 words, putting me at a grand total of 15,785 for the month — just over 4,000 words shy of where I should be at the end of tonight.

Unfortunately, I don't see today turning out much better.  I was at the barn for most of the day, and while I did take my laptop and get a little work done while I was there, I didn't get done nearly as much as I should have.  Therefore I still have some work to do this evening... which means, once again, not much time for working on my novel!

I hate falling behind, because there comes a point when you just know you are too far behind to catch up, and I am afraid I will reach that point within another day or two if I am not careful.  How is everyone else doing?  Are you meeting your goals — even if those goals aren't 1,667 words a day?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Reading, writing, and arithmetic

I've spent my days lately reading, writing, and adding to my word count.  I'm barely on track for NaNoWriMo with 15,056 words so far, but that works for me.  I've decided to rewrite a few scenes as I've been going along, filling in some of the parts I skipped over previously, so I may just be able to squeak out 50,000 words this year.

I also have been reading — a lot!  I got hooked on another series of books, this time the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning.  The last time I was this addicted to a series of books, so much that it interfered with writing, riding my horse, and everything else in my life, was when I read the Sookie Stackhouse books over the summer.  I finished all ten in just over a week!

This time the series was shorter, with just four books out right now.  Unfortunately I will have to wait until January 18th for the fifth and final book.  It's too bad I can't make myself slow down so I can enjoy them for a little longer — I read the second, third, and fourth books in about two days!  The timing wasn't good, either — with NaNoWriMo on top of all my normal activities, getting hooked on a new series meant I didn't get much done.  Oh well — at least there were only four books this time!

What has everyone else been up to so far this month?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

8,394 words and an unsuccessful write-in

I usually am the first one to tout the value of the write-in, but it didn't work so well for me this evening (Friday evening).  I went with my mom to a write-in at the all-night coffee shop and used bookstore in my area, and although we stayed for nearly 2 hours, I was only able to write a whopping 40 or so words.

I came home somewhat discouraged, and wondering if I should just give up for the day.  As my husband got ready for bed, though, I settled down on the couch with my laptop and one of my cats.  And just like that, my muse was back!  I wrote 1,530 words — enough to get me where I needed to be for today — in an astonishing 50 minutes.  Unfortunately, though, the last 200 words were added after it technically became Saturday, so my little box on the calender for Friday is yellow instead of green.  I'm going to ignore that, though, because I consider Friday to be a green day, rather than a yellow one.  After all, 8,394 words puts me right on track, if barely (I needed 8,333 at the end of today).

Maybe I'll be able to get ahead a little this weekend, but I'm not overly concerned about it.  I think being just barely on track each day keeps me writing every day.  If I quit after 1,667 words every day, then I never get that complacent feeling of being able to take a day off if I want because I am ahead.  It sounds like an odd way to think of it, I know, but we'll see — it feels like the kind of plan that just might work.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Still on schedule with 6,864 words!

With every day that passes of NaNoWriMo, I am more and more thrilled to be staying on schedule.  Today we were supposed to reach 6,667 words, and although I struggled somewhat, I ended up adding 1,725 words for a grand total of 6,864.

As I mentioned last night, I am finishing an previous NaNoWriMo novel.  Last year my main characters all turned out to be plot ninjas, and kept falling in love with the wrong people, so I opted for a very different version of my original plot.  Because it took me by surprise, I decided to make some changes as I wrote, so this year one of the things I am doing is filling in the holes my changes left and rewriting scenes so that they fit a little better.  I also have a large chunk of writing to do to fill in the middle of the novel, which somehow got skipped last year (my characters were anxious to get together, and skipped ahead to the end... don't ask).

So far, this year is going quite well.  My revisions and scene rewrites are going as planned, and although I didn't have much of a plan for the missing middle chunk when I started NaNoWriMo, it is starting to take shape as I write.  I am feeling quite good about my chances of finishing my novel this year!

5,139 words and my plans for NaNoWriMo

So far I'm on track for NaNoWriMo, with 5,139 words at the end of Wednesday — and I even wrote them before midnight, too!  I've been doing most of my novel writing after midnight each night (which is why the first two squares on my calender widget are yellow), and while that still feels like today in my book (it's not tomorrow until you've been to bed), I will have to finish my novel before midnight on the 30th.  Also, I've been sleeping quite late every morning as a result, and then not getting my regular work done until later in the day, forcing me to wait until later to work on my novel again — a very bad self-fulfilling pattern that I plan to break out of in the next couple of days.

I'm pleased with my progress on my novel so far, even though tonight I felt like I had to work for every one of the 1,767 words I added this evening.  I know I mentioned already that I am finishing last year's novel, but what I didn't talk about was the fact that I really don't have 50,000 words to add.  I'm thinking I'll run out of stuff to write around 30,000 at best.  At that point I am planning to add word count by rewriting some of the stuff I wrote the first time around that I wasn't happy with.  I may not make it to 50,000, but if I finish this novel this year, I'll be okay with that.

Another option, once I run out of stuff to write in this novel, is to start on the next novel idea floating around in my head.  I have several I really like, so I would have to decide which one to work on next.  It may be cheating a little, but I figure if I'm writing 1,667 new words every day, it's not breaking the rules by much!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NaNoWriMo, Day 1 - word count, 2,271

I don't know whether I should consider this the end of Day 1, or the beginning of Day 2, but I'm leaning towards the former.  With any luck, I will wake up at a decent time tomorrow and start working on my novel during the evenings, and maybe even will update before midnight (gasp!).

That's my goal, anyway.  I don't like making up my word count after midnight, because even though it's still Day 1 to me, technically it puts me a day behind.  I need to be able to get to 50,000 words before midnight on Day 30!

Anyway, I did manage to make some time to work on my novel tonight, even though I was beginning to think I wouldn't be able to — I spent too much time today updating my blogs and doing other administrative tasks, and still had client work to finish up before I could put on my fiction hat.

I added 1,282 words to my novel tonight, for a grand total so far of 2,271.  I will need to add about a thousand words tomorrow (before midnight!) if I want to stay on track, more if I want to get ahead (which I do).

How about the rest of you?  Was your first day successful?

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo... Go!

Last night I attended my first ever kickoff party for NaNoWriMo.  They have always been held at people's houses in the past, so I've never gone before.  It seems I may not have been the only one who felt that way, because holding the kickoff at an all-night coffee shop and used bookstore resulted in an unexpectedly large showing.  According to the MLs' "Play Doh count" (they passed out tiny cans of Play Doh to everyone), there were 64 people there by midnight!

I meant to take pictures of the kickoff party so that you could see how many people there were, but suffice it to say that there wasn't enough seating for everyone.  People brought pillows and blankets and camped out on the floor against the bookshelves.  The coffee shop owners (who knew in advance that we were going to take over the store for the night, and actually welcomed it) also brought in some extra chairs.  People were everywhere.  It was fun to watch the non-NaNo folks walk through the door, look at the crowded bookstore in confusion, and then after a few moments, uncertainly walk back out again.

The bookstore was pretty noisy until midnight, and then suddenly you could have heard a pin drop as everyone got started writing.  Around 1:00am, a lot of people cleared out, and then again around 2:00; and by 2:30, when I left, there was only a handful of people that remained behind.

This year I am using NaNoWriMo to finish last year's novel.  I know, I know — that's cheating.  But I am only counting new word count, so it won't give me a head start or anything.  However, that did mean that before I could start writing last night, I had to finish reading last year's work so I could get up to speed on where I was.  Because I found myself unable to read and take notes effectively with the noise of the pre-midnight party, it wasn't until about an hour into NaNo that I finally got started writing.

It ended up being a good start to the month, though.  As of 2:30, I had 989 words.  That's more than half of what I need for the first day (1,667), and if I can add a couple thousand this evening, that will allow me a comfortable lead.

I'll update here as the month goes on, of course, but you can also find my profile here.  (If it doesn't work for a few days, don't be surprised — the site is a bit overloaded right now.)  I'll also update my sidebar with a word count widget (hopefully the calendar one, if it works this year), and a participant badge with a link to my profile.

I'd love to hear from others who are doing NaNoWriMo this year.  Did you attend a kickoff party, or did you start writing right at midnight?  Is your word count off to a good start?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An unscheduled vacation

My husband took last week off from work.  We weren't planning on going anywhere, and in fact it was a fairly last-minute decision — he asked for the time off about a week beforehand.  He was getting stressed out at work and needed a little break.

I was planning on working while he was off.  I had a light week scheduled, so I figured I would work some short days and spend the rest of my time with him.  Ha.  I ended up getting very little done — my resolve to work fell apart by about Tuesday.

It was a great week.  We shopped together and got some things for the house, and did some upgrades to the bathroom that we have been talking about doing for ages.  How many husbands want to spend their time at an antique mall on their vacation?  And now you see why my will power to work failed me!  Who can resist temptation like that?

Luckily I'd only had a light workload last week, so I was able to more or less get away with it.  I have some catching up to do this week, on client work as well as getting ready for NaNoWriMo, but nothing I can't handle.

What about you?  Have you ever taken an unscheduled vacation?  How did it turn out?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Asus Eee replacement battery review

Recently my battery in my Asus Eee died, and I had to get a replacement.  I was really nervous about getting an aftermarket replacement, but after using it for a couple of weeks, I have to say I'm really pleased with it!

Here is the battery I got: Asus Eee 1000 battery

First of all, I was really impressed with how quickly the battery came.  I had it within a few days of ordering, despite the estimated delivery time.

The battery is also more powerful than the one my computer came with.  Because I bought the netbook from Best Buy, it only came with the 4400 battery, instead of the 6600.  When it was new, I typically got about 3 hours at the full processor speed and with the wireless on (the Eee I have allows you to turn down the processor speed to get more out of the battery).  Shortly before it quit working, I was only getting about two hours out of it at best, maybe a little more with the wireless off.

The new battery is much better.  After running it down fully and charging it up fully a few times to condition it, I timed the battery life at a little over four hours — and that's at maximum processor speed, with the wireless on.  I haven't yet tried turning down the processor and turning the wireless off, but I think I'd probably get well over five hours out of the battery if I did.

It occurred to me the other day that with NaNoWriMo starting in a little over a week, this is a perfect time to have a brand-new, long life battery.  I'll be able to easily last through all the write-ins on battery power — I won't have to worry at all about bringing my cord!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What NaNoWriMo events do you participate in?

Two weeks until the start of NaNoWriMo 2010!  I'm getting really excited.  One of the things I'm looking forward to the most is attending the events — I love going to the local write-ins and social meet-ups.  I'm usually the only professional writer, but I try to put that all aside and just have fun.

It occurred to me the other day, though, that a lot of the people who read my blog have probably never even been to any of the events.  If you want to check it out, sign in on NaNoWriMo.org and go to the forums.  You should have a forum category dedicated to your area, determined by what you set in your profile.

There are two basic types of events throughout the month, most of them on a weekly basis: social meet-ups, and write-ins.  Don't plan on getting much writing done at the social meet-ups, as they are more so that you can get to know the other writers in your area, talk about your novels, and sometimes even read from your novel.  These meet-ups can also be good for getting help if you get stuck, but mostly they are just for fun and for getting to know one another.

Write-ins are more serious.  Generally the idea is to shut up and write, although a little bit of socialization is sometimes allowed, depending on how anal the members of your group are.  It's a good way to get a couple of solid hours of writing in, though, especially if you've been struggling with motivation.  And then you have one of my personal favorite, the word wars — someone sets a timer, and everyone writes like the dickens for ten minutes or so.  When the timer goes off, you see who has the highest word count.

Once during the month, usually toward the end for those desperate folk who have gotten behind, there is an all-day write in, called a write-a-thon.  The area leaders usually plan this, and there are various prizes for word wars throughout the day.  I attended one in 2008, and it was a lot of fun, though we were all spazzed out on caffeine by the end of the day (the write-a-thon was held in a tea shop).

This year will be my first year attending the kickoff party.  Usually this one is held at someone's house, since it is held Halloween night, and everyone starts writing at midnight local time — not many places are open late enough for something like that.  But this year, we have a wonderful 24-hour bookstore and coffee shop that opened up near me, so that's where the kickoff party is being held.  I'm so excited!

Do you participate in any local events during NaNoWriMo, and if so, which ones?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The mathematics of a perfect day

Last Thursday, I had one of those rare perfect days.  Well, close enough — it took me a little while to get warmed up, but in the end I was able to achieve my ideal working pace.  Everything seems to be taking me up to twice as long lately, so this was a really big deal!

For me, a perfect day seems to be about 4 hours (give or take) of client work.  This gives me time to get warmed up in the morning, check email and Facebook, do a little blog reading, maintain my own blogs, and maybe do a little marketing.  It also gives me time to take short breaks throughout the day, which I can't seem to make myself forego.

I think my perfect day goes a little bit like this:

½ hour getting caught up on email (work and personal)
½ hour checking other blogs
1-2 hours working on my own blogs and/or marketing
5 or so hours spent on client work, usually in 1-2 hour blocks, with Facebook and email breaks in between (the extra hour "or so" is to account for breaks)

On Thursday I had a limited amount of time, so I cut out the blogging in favor of getting the work done earlier.  I was done for the day by 3:30, and I couldn't help but think how nice it would be if I could be that efficient all the time.  Then I could easily skip blogging and other marketing every other day, or move it to the evening, in order to make more time for horseback riding during the day.

What is your perfect workday like?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

International Freelancers Day video review: "Workday Nirvana"

I finally got around to watching the replay of the video I most wanted to watch in the International Freelancers Day video lineup: "Workday Nirvana: How to remain inspired and productive when you work alone."  I wanted to watch this one because it is so applicable to the productivity issues I'm struggling with right now.

The presenter, Mike McDerment, has some good points.  Here are a few of his main points, and my thoughts on each.

* Have a clean, dedicated, well-stocked workspace and a good chair.  This was really divided into two points.  One, you need a space that no one in your family is going to mess with, that you can close the door on after hours, but also where you can be undisturbed during work hours.  In addition, he talked about the importance of a comfortable chair, since you'll be spending so much time in it!

Well, first of all, my desk is NOT clean.  I clean it a couple of times a year, and the inbox gradually overflows until I clean it all again.  But more importantly, I find that I do better when I don't sit in the same place all day long, so having a dedicated workspace might actually hinder my productivity, in my case.  The comfortable chair I totally agree with, though — I replaced my first desk chair because I couldn't sit in it for very long without feeling uncomfortable.

* Plan your week Sunday night.  I've heard this one before.  The idea is to plan out your week Sunday night, so that you know what you have to do and can get right to work Monday morning.  I already do this in part, since I usually write out my to-do list for the next day the night before — perhaps I could benefit from planning more than one day at a time.

* Dress for the day.  McDerment is actually talking about dressing up.  I don't wear business clothes at home, but I do find that I generally work better if I change out of my pajamas when I wake up.  It doesn't matter if I just put on sweats — the act of changing my clothes seems to signal to my brain that it's time to work.

* Set a daily schedule.  He really advocates working the same hours every day, whether that is 9 to 5 or something different.  I think for some of us it might be more useful to simply set a schedule for the day and stick to it.  Most of us have variable schedules, and in fact, that may have something to do with why we freelance: the ability to choose our own hours.  But I get what he's saying: that having a routine can help you get into a productive mindset during work hours.

* Network.  Part of this tip seems to be that networking lunches get you out of the house.  I do find that getting out of the house helps me to focus with the rest of my day, whereas knowing I'm going to be sitting at home for the next 12 hours tends to make me procrastinate more.  However, my version of getting out of the house during the day is currently limited to going to the barn.  Perhaps I should look at some networking opportunities... though that might be tough, when most of the people I network with are online, rather than local!

* Don't work too hard.  This seems counter-intuitive, but I get what he's saying: If you work too hard, you are going to lose inspiration because you are going to burn out.  He advocates taking breaks, lunches, and working regular hours (no evenings or weekends).  Ha.  I know a couple of freelancers who never break this rule, but they are precious few.  I personally like being able to make the decision to work evenings so that I can spend the warmer, lighter daytime hours at the barn, or working harder some days so that I can take some time off another day.  Unfortunately, I also know what he's saying, that it's easy to let work engulf you, because there really is always something you need to do.  So if you have a more flexible schedule, I think you also need to have the ability to know when enough is enough.

I think I covered all his main points, but I do recommend watching the 20-minutes video if you're interested in finding out more.  You can sign up for free to watch the International Freelancers Day video replays, so why not?

What are your thoughts about his tips for achieving better workday inspiration and productivity?  My main reaction is that these kinds of self-help gurus never tell you how to be disciplined enough to follow their tips in the first place.  I may start out with the best intentions, but any trick I try only works the first few times.  Has anyone else found this to be true?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Here's what I want

What I want is 28 hours in a day, instead of 24.  Is that too much to ask?

Seriously, though, I am having a hard time making time for everything I want to do, which has caused a lot of thought on why this is happening and how I can fix it.

The biggest problem is that I've realized I'm not riding enough.  I had this epiphany last Wednesday, when Panama played with — and wore out — two friends in consecutive playdates, and was still fired up after that.  I think that has something to do with why I've been having some problems with him lately, and why I've been falling so much.  I started out the summer riding nearly every day, and he was much better behaved then.

So I need to find a way to make that happen again, except without neglecting my work, as I was then.

This is what I want, but the problem is, I don't know how to make it happen.  I used to go to the barn nearly every day and have time for it, but in the past year or so I've noticed a change in my work habits.  I figure it is taking me about 1.5 times longer (on average) to finish client projects as it used to, so if I don't spend less time at the barn, it means less money earned at the keyboard.

Why the change?  I don't know, but I suspect it may have something to do with Facebook!  That's not the only time waster I've discovered in the past year, though, so perhaps Facebook is the symptom rather than the problem.  Whatever the cause, I'm going to have to figure out how to reclaim some of my lost productivity if I am going to get what I want — more free time — especially with NaNoWriMo coming up!  The first year I did NaNo, it served to increase my productivity — hopefully it will do the same this year, too.

Has anyone else gone through a period where you've lost productivity for whatever reason?  And if so, how did you get it back?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recruiting writing buddies for NaNoWriMo

I've decided what I need this year is a couple of writing buddies to help me stay motivated during NaNoWriMo.  I've already pitched the idea to my mom, and she is considering participating this year.  I'm also trying (for the second year) to get an old high school friend to try it — due to circumstances in his personal life, I might actually have some luck this year.

Although this will be my fifth year doing NaNoWriMo, I've never been able to get anyone I know to do it with me.  I do have a few writing buddies I've met during NaNo, some of them dating back to the first year I did it, but it would be pretty cool if I could get friends and family to try it this year.

What about you?  Do you have any friends or family who do NaNoWriMo along with you, or are your writing buddies made up of those you've met through NaNo?  Or do you fly solo — no writing buddies at all?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

For those of you who don't already know, every November I participate in NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in one month.  I "won" (completed 50,000 words) the first year I did NaNo, in 2006, but I haven't since, for various reasons.  However, winner or not, I love participating in all the meet-ups, write-ins, forum discussions, and word count challenges that come with NaNoWriMo.

This year, for the second year in a row, I will be working on a novel that is already in progress.  This is against a strict interpretation of NaNoWriMo rules, but since I'm competing against myself, who cares?  Like last year, I will only count the words I add during NaNo 2010, so there's not really much of a difference.

If you haven't done NaNo before, I highly recommend it.  Whether or not you try to win, meeting other participants, doing write-ins, and talking about your novel can provide motivation.   Sign up, and then get on the forum for your area to see what local events you can attend!

This year the Denver kickoff party will be at Fireside, a 24-hour bookstore and coffee stop that opened up near my house earlier this year.  I love this bookstore, so I'm looking forward to the kickoff party very much, plus any write-ins we can set up there!

I'll blog a bit more about my novel as November approaches, but for now, I'd love to hear who else is planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year!

Monday, October 04, 2010

RIP, netbook battery

About a year and a half ago, I bought a netbook, the Asus Eee, to replace my aging Averatec laptop.  I've been using the Eee every day for work ever since, and still find it to be perfect for all my needs as a freelance writer.

Unfortunately, last week the battery quit.  It was fairly unexpected — although I'd been getting a little less battery life (even the smaller 4400mAh Asus Eee battery used to give me about 3 hours of Internet browsing), there was nothing to indicate that it would suddenly quit charging altogether.

My mom has the same computer, so before ordering a new battery, I tried her battery in my computer and found it worked fine.  Reassured it wasn't an operating system issue, I ordered the same battery my dad got her as an extra.  It's a little bigger, so I am looking forward to a little longer battery life!

I hate these unexpected freelancing expenses, but this one didn't turn out to be too painful.  The battery was fairly affordable, and it was a kick in the pants to do something I've been meaning to do: Buy the bigger battery for my netbook.

Have you been hit with any unexpected freelancing expenses lately?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

International Freelancers Day replays

If you missed the videos available in real-time on International Freelancers Day — Friday, September 24 and Saturday, September 25 — replays are now available!  If you registered, you should have gotten an email today with a website and a password to access the videos.

Even if you didn't register before the event, however, it's not too late!  You can watch three of the videos on this page, and if you like what you see, you can register to get access to the rest!

I haven't had a chance to look at any of the videos yet — I'll probably start going through them this weekend.  The one I'm most interested in is the one about staying motivated and productive when you work from home.

If you've watched any of the sessions, either as replays or during the event, which ones do you recommend?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Banned Books Week!

I used to blog about Banned Books Week every year, but looking through my old posts, I see it has been a while.  I just found out it was Banned Books Week from an announcement on another blog, but it has been a while since I've "celebrated," so I decided to read a frequently challenged book.

My criteria for making a decision were that the book had to be an ebook (so I can start reading right away), had to be affordable (I hate paying more for an ebook than I would for a paperback), and had to be a fairly fast read.  I also preferred to read something I either haven't read before, or haven't read for a very long time.  All of the books in the top ten list of banned books for 2009 were either ones I'd already read, not available in ebook form, or too expensive ($13 for The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things?!), so I headed over to the list of challenged classics.

There were a few on the list that I already had in my ebook collection, thanks to Barnes & Nobles free classic ebooks promotion (which ended September 14th — I'm still sad about that).  However, I eventually settled on The Awakening.  I may have read it or part of it in high school, but what I don't remember won't hurt me!

(Anyone notice, by the way, that Huckleberry Finn is not on that list of challenged classics?  Very odd.  I was pretty sure that was something like one of the most frequently challenged classics ever.)

Anyway, here is a cute video listing the top ten challenged books of 2009, with explanations of why each one was challenged.  There are a few classics (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye), and of course the Twilight Saga, but I was surprised to see my favorite Jodi Picoult book, My Sister's Keeper, on the list.  It's not a young adult book by any means, but I suspect since a recent movie was based on it (a generous statement, since I hear they changed the most pivotal plot twist in the book), a lot of high school English teachers were probably teaching the book in their classes, in the usual desperate attempt to interest today's kids in reading.

Anyway, enjoy the video — and if you are reading a banned book this week to celebrate, please share your choice in the comments!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spelling and grammar mistakes on the rise

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling like poor spelling and grammar is on the rise.  Ten minutes on Craigslist will make you feel pretty pessimistic about the future of our country's literacy rate.  But there are a number of spelling and grammar mistakes that I'm starting to see more and more from people who ought to know better.  Here are a few that I can think of off the top of my head.

Hyphens:  There was a sign in a local park, advertising a fitness boot camp that was going to be held there, that asked whether you were "worth 1-hour a day" (or something to that effect — I don't remember the actual number, just the hyphen).  That sign irritated me every time I saw it.

Along the same lines, I've also been seeing a lot of statements like, "She is 5-years-old."  No, no, no!  She is either 5 years old, or a 5-year-old.  What I don't understand is why this is suddenly becoming so common.  I don't remember it being such an issue until the last couple of years.

Capital letters: I have noticed a lot of people lately writing about "my Dad" or "my Mom."  When I was in school, I was taught that the word was only capitalized if it was used as their name.  Talking about my mom or dad is not really using it as their name, so the word isn't capitalized.

I'm noticing this a lot on Facebook.  I'm sure a lot of you will say, "Oh, yeah, Facebook is full of people who don't know how to spell, etc."  But the scary thing is, the people doing this are people I went to school with.  Was I the only one paying attention back then?

One word versus two: This one is for my dear sweet husband, who often emails me from work that he is "going to workout" when he gets home.  This is like the difference between log in and login, and it drives me crazy.  The verb is two words, the noun is one. e.g., "I'm going to log in to the website, but first I need your login information."  Or...  "I'm going to work out when I get home."  "I hope you have a good workout, honey."

I didn't include the classic there/their/they're or to/too/two because I'm talking about mistakes that I didn't used to see very often, and now I see all the time.  I'm sure I'm missing some.  What spelling or grammar mistakes are you starting to see more often?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

International Freelancers Day

Kathy Kehrli's wonderful blog, Screw You!, gave me the heads up that tomorrow is International Freelancers Day.  I won't be online much tomorrow, but I dropped by the check it out, and was amazed at what a great list of sessions and presenters they will have.  They also have a full day on Saturday, and all of it is free!

Even if you aren't going to be able to attend on short notice, I think it's worth registering — if you are registered, you'll be able to watch the videos for free at a later date.

I am especially interested in a session called "Workday Nirvana: How to remain inspired and productive when you work alone."  This one runs at 12:45 EST tomorrow, so I won't be able to make it, but I'm hoping to be able to catch it as a rerun.  Sounds like it could offer some advice that will help me with productivity — something I have been struggling with lately.

Also of interest is a presentation on Saturday by the author of the Well-Fed Writer series.  I've read the first book, but I'm interested to see what he has to say in the short video session!

Will you be attending any of the presentations?  If so, I'd love to know what you think, so that when Friday's sessions are available on replay I know which ones I want to watch!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time to whine

I don't feel like writing anything terribly useful or instructional today. I've had one heck of a weekend, and I feel a need to complain about it.

Some of you know I have type 1 diabetes. I was diagnosed in 2002, when I was in college, when I finally decided weighing under 100 pounds for no apparent reason was a good reason to go to the doctor. I manage it well, though, and it rarely interferes with my work or my hobbies.

I do, however, like to participate in studies through my doctor's office. For the one I'm doing now, I had to be put on NPH, an older 12-hour insulin, on Friday.

My life has not been the same ever since, and I don't mean that in a good way.

Suddenly I understand why being diabetic used to be such a terrible thing. I was diagnosed after Lantus, the 24-hour insulin on the market, came out, so I'd never known anything but long-acting, even-keel insulin and highly effective, short-acting insulin. NPH, on the other hand, has extreme peaks and valleys in its effectiveness, making it impossible for me to do my usual carb-counting (how I determine the amount of short-acting insulin I take for each meal). I fight extreme lows all day, yet in the morning when I wake up, my blood sugar is sky high.

I had intended to get some work done over the weekend, but it just didn't work out. After crashing Saturday evening and narrowly managing to avoid crashing on Sunday, I just didn't have the time or willpower to work around our other weekend plans. And this morning I had such awful nausea while my blood sugar rapidly dropped from its morning high, that I have to confess I wasn't very productive today, either.

Luckily I should only be on NPH for a week. My next appointment can't come soon enough — I want my life back!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Making time to blog

I've been neglecting my blogs for a long time now, almost all year. I've had a number of things come up throughout the year, until I literally felt like I was barely hanging on, barely able to even manage my client workload, let alone administrative and marketing tasks such as blogging and finding new clients. Put it this way: I have a lot of catching up to do with my email inbox, my freelance income and expense records, and other administrative tasks.

I've been trying harder lately to keep up on my blogs, however. I did miss a week recently, but you'll notice I am trying to get two or three posts up on my blog every week. It's a far cry from the daily posting I used to do, but it's a start.

Part of what I'm doing is trying to make time to blog. A couple of times a week, I make it a point to blog first thing in the morning. This is what I used to do, but with all the trail rides this summer, and feeling pressure to get caught up on the days I didn't go out to the barn in the morning, I'm having to make a real effort now to work this into my schedule. I'm also trying to write and schedule future posts when I have a chance, so that I don't get wrapped up in something else later in the week and forget.

How about you? Do you schedule time for blogging, and when do you find is the best time to do so?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Reading styles: Are you a traditionalist or a multitasker?

For a change of pace, I wanted to talk about an article I saw on NPR on Monday, about reading more than one book at once. If you have 15 minutes or so, listen to the story, maybe while you make your lunch. It's an interesting idea: Why do we feel we have to read one book cover-to-cover before we start the next?

I have to admit, I am pretty traditional in this respect. I don't often read more than one book at once, and I don't even particularly like to "quit" once I start reading a book. Sometimes I'll force myself to read it all the way through, even if I'm not enjoying it.

When I was in college, though, I'd always be reading many books at once. As a literature major, the more lit classes I had, the more books I was reading — sometimes more than one at once for one class! Plus I always had something I was reading for pleasure (though I finished those novels much slower when I was reading a lot of books for classes).

I never had any trouble keeping them straight, yet since I graduated, I've still returned to thinking of it like a violation of some rule if I read more than one book at once. I recently read a couple of short stories (ebooks) while I was reading other books, and even that felt a little like I was pushing the envelope.

What about you? Do you regularly read more than one book at once? As writers, we have to be good at multitasking, but do you make use of that skill in your leisure activities — or are you a rigid traditionalist about reading one book at once, like I am?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

An unexpectedly quiet night at home

I was originally supposed to babysit this evening, so Michael made plans with a friend. (I still babysit for a family I started with in college. It's been six years, and I've known their two younger children from the time they were teeny babies, so it's a labor of love as well as a welcome source of cash on the side.)

Turns out they don't need me to babysit after all, so my evening is unexpectedly free, and I've been happily deciding how to spend it.

Today wasn't the most productive day, so I think the first thing I'm going to do is get some more work done. I just got several new projects in, and I'm eager to get started on something fresh and different, after struggling all day to focus on one single article.

And oh, how could I plan a quiet evening alone without reading? I'm currently reading Dracula in Love, and enjoying it very much. An hour or so alone with my book sounds fantastic.

I am also thinking about going somewhere for all this lovely alone time. Maybe it sounds counterintuitive, but I've been home all day, and it hasn't really been working for me. I'm debating between Starbucks and Tokyo Joe's — both are close and provide wireless, although I must say sushi sounds more appealing than anything else at the moment!

Since most evenings I spend eating dinner and watching movies with my husband, it's nice to have an evening to myself for a change. What about you? How do you like to spend your quiet evenings alone — and how often do you get them?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Holiday weekend aftermath

I didn't get much done over the holiday weekend. I meant to, but from the time Michael was home (he took off on Thursday and Friday) until this morning, the working part of my brain pretty much shut itself off completely. I prefer to think of it as that I needed the vacation, rather than as a continuation of some of the problems focusing that I've had lately.

Anyway, after a weekend of relaxing, spending time with my husband and his family, and riding my horse, I have four client articles to catch up on, plus I need to respond to two client emails that got rather lost in the shuffle last week. It doesn't sound like much when I condense it into one sentence like that, but it is a lot of work that I need to get done ASAP!

Do you have anything you are playing catchup on after the holiday weekend?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sleep schedule struggles

Who here remembers when I used to sleep until noon every day, easily? I usually worked from midnight until 3am or 4am, then went to bed and slept late. In the afternoon after I got up, I usually blogged, networked, and browsed the job boards, and at night I would get the real work done. Because no one was awake to bother me, and because I am a night person and have the most focus then, I was able to work much faster than I can during the day.

A number of factors made me have to change my schedule. Having a horse and sharing a car with my husband (in order to go ride said horse) were two major factors, but I think the biggest was when my cat Prince got sick last fall. He stopped eating sometime around October, so I was force feeding him, which meant getting up extra early in order to get some food into him before I went out to the barn or whatnot.

Even after Prince passed away in April, I kept my earlier schedule, which I was proud of. It means I get up earlier on the weekends and have more time to spend with my husband, which we both like. It also meant I was going for trail rides a couple mornings a week, and I've found the morning activity makes me less likely to be sleepy later on in the day.

The drawback is that I'm not as productive during the day. Other people are awake, so I spend more time checking email, Facebook, and blogs. But for nearly a year now, I've made it work, and I've been pleased.

Until Wednesday. I worked until 3am to meet a deadline, and then read for another hour. Although I was up at 8:30 the next morning anyway, I was groggy and tired. I went back to bed, and didn't get up again until nearly noon. Then yesterday, I also slept until noon, after staying up late again to finish a book (The Help, by Kathryn Stockett — awesome book).

I was so worried that my sleep schedule would be permanently messed up, so I made myself go to bed earlier last night, and got up at 9:30 this morning. Unfortunately, now I'm getting sleepy. (Dehydrated, I'm sure!) Time for a coffee beverage and a little blogging break!

After staying focused on work, I think my schedule is one of my biggest struggles as a freelancer. What are yours?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The breaks system

One of the subjects that I talk about on my blog a lot is time management. I find it can be very difficult sometimes to focus on work without checking email, Facebook, Craigslist, or the blogs I follow. Depending on how motivated I am to work on a certain project, sometimes I get the urge to do this about every five minutes. Resisting can be quite the challenge!

Lately I've been trying to operate on a breaks system. Instead of trying to focus on work for an entire day or a half day, I try to get about an hour's worth of work done — a client's blog post, interviewing a source, outlining an article, or doing some research on a new topic. When the goal is accomplished, I take a short mental break — browse the Internet, get a snack, or even read a little (I've been reading a lot lately). Sometimes (less often) I do some mundane chore, like laundry, just to make me move around a little before I go back to work.

I've also been trying not to work through lunch anymore, something I've done on and off (but primarily on) for years. Instead I try to get some quality work done before and after lunch, but let myself read a book or a couple of blog posts while I eat.

And of course, I've been visiting the barn a lot this summer, usually in the mornings. This is the trickiest to accommodate in my schedule, because it can take up half a day when I have a lesson or go for a trail ride. The end result is that I have to work harder and faster in the afternoon, and maybe even a little into the evening. But on the flip side, I tend to feel more energetic when I start the day with a ride, and less likely to let my attention wander when I get back to work.

I think the issue of breaks can be a challenging one for freelancers. When you work for someone, you guard your breaks jealously, but when you work for yourself — when you don't get paid for that time, and always have some client project to finish before you can invoice them — it's easy to forget.

I think breaks are just as important for freelancers, however — perhaps more so, when you consider that sometime you are your most demanding boss. When I give myself more breaks, I actually find I tend to be more productive.

What about you? Do you find that you do or don't need regular breaks? How do you determine when you take them, and how do you spend them?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beating the need for a nap

One of the biggest challenges I've encountered as a freelance writer is staying awake all day. Working from home makes that afternoon nap harder to resist, probably because I'm surrounded by the quiet comforts of home. Plus, those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I tend toward a rather nontraditional schedule. For almost a year now, though, I've been forcing myself to go to bed earlier and get up at a decent time (before 9:00 most mornings!). Although I'm not as productive in the daytime as I am late at night, there are some other advantages, such as being on a similar schedule as my husband.

Unfortunately, it does mean that I struggle with sleepiness in the afternoon, particularly on days when I don't go to the barn in the morning. Although it's nice to take a nap sometimes, I almost never take short ones, so a "quick" nap blows half my afternoon. Therefore I've had to learn a few tricks for combating afternoon sleepiness.

* Drink plenty of water. I learned this trick from our water department newsletter, of all places. (Kudos to the writer who put that newsletter together!) Apparently mild dehydration can actually cause you to feel a little sleepy.

* Eat a small lunch. A large meal will make you feel sleepy in the afternoon. I prefer to eat a lighter lunch, along with some snacks throughout the day if I get hungry.

* Snack on something spicy. Did you know that spicy food can actually wake you up if you are getting sleepy? Eat something spicy for lunch, or snack on chips and salsa in the afternoon when you feel yourself starting to drag.

* Go for a walk. Exercise will also wake you up if you are getting sleepy. Even if you don't have time to work out during the day, a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood should get rid of the urge to take a nap. I even sometimes will get up and put away a load of laundry, just to get out of my chair and move around a little!

* Change the scenery. I'm actually writing this from Starbucks on Friday afternoon. I'm a big fan of going to coffee shops and bookstores occasionally to work — if I'm feeling sleepy or bored, I find it usually revives me to work someplace with a little activity. It's hard not to want to sleep when you are surrounded by napping dogs and cats all day long!

Do you struggle with afternoon sleepiness, and if so, how do you stay awake and productive?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Do you work weekends?

One of the things I like best about freelancing is the ability to determine your own schedule. For some freelancers, this means working in the evenings and on the weekends in order to make time for things you want to do during the day.

For example, I love going out to the barn to ride my horse in the mornings, when it isn't as busy. However, this often means I have some work left to do in the evenings. My husband and I work around this by going to a bookstore so I can work in the cafe while he browses, or we just stay home and he plays Xbox while I work.

Likewise, I use weekends as my backup plan. If, for some reason, I don't get something done during the week that I'd planned to do, I can work a little on the weekend. Usually we either go to a bookstore, or I work for an hour or so late at night, after Michael has gone to bed.

Working weekends is getting more rare for me, but it's still always a possibility. I actually kind of like the feeling of always having something to do. I know other freelancers, however, who prefer to maintain firm boundaries with their clients. They don't work evenings or weekends, don't even answer client emails unless it's during normal business hours.

There is definitely some merit to that kind of approach. Some clients will take advantage if you let them, contacting you at all hours with last-minute projects and revision requests. Having office hours will set boundaries prevent that kind of client from making you miserable. But in my opinion, there are advantages to a more flexible schedule, too, as it enables you to work around your life, rather than living around your work.

What about you? Do you work weekends sometimes, always, or not at all?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pet peeves

Yesterday, when I was browsing Craigslist, an ad I've seen before caught my eye. It was for a website with a list of locations and reviews of Denver area dog parks, so I decided to check it out.

The site was awful. It looked like a free site, for one thing, and the layout sucked. But the content was also really bad. One of my pet peeves is overuse of keywords, and this site had it in spades.

Feeling nice, I clicked on the email link in the Craigslist ad and sent a nice email, saying that someone had clearly given them bad advice on how to handle keywords, and offering to give them a few tips on how to make the content better. Know what I earned for my generosity? An email asking me to donate my services to rewrite the pages, since of course, it's a "nonprofit website."

Enter another one of my pet peeves: People who try to get free work out of writers by claiming they are a nonprofit. The really annoying thing was that the website had ads plastered across the top of every page, so it's not unprofitable for lack of trying! Failing to earn any ad revenue doesn't make you a nonprofit, honey.

I responded and let them know in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to be taken advantage of, but that the offer for some advice was still open if they wanted to take me up on it. Did they? No, of course not.

Which brings us to my biggest pet peeve of all: People who put crappy content on the Internet, know it's crappy, and don't care.

What are your biggest pet peeves?

Friday, July 23, 2010

A top freelance blog - really, me?

I am a bit behind in reporting this astonishing award. As usual, I've been quite busy. A great deal of it has been how frequently I've been riding my horse — in the last two weeks, I stayed home from several trail rides, and was amazed at how much more work I got done when I did.

Anyway, I recently received an email notifying me that Swan's Pond has been chosen as one of the 2010 Top 40 Freelance Blogs. Granted, I am number 39, but still — what an honor! And especially considering how sporadically I've been posting lately!

Speaking of which, now that I feel like I'm getting my schedule under control, I am going to try to start posting regularly again. I have some good posts planned, and I am going to try for two or three posts a week to start!

Thanks to Emma Lee at AwardingTheWeb.com for the Top Freelance Blog award!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Coming back from holidays

Coming back after a long weekend is always so difficult! Michael took Friday off, and since I have a hard time working when he is home, by default so did I. When I sat down last night to make my to-do list for today, I had such a hard time getting my mind to switch gears.

We didn't do much to speak of over the weekend, just mainly relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. Neither of us are big partiers or even particularly fond of fireworks — having a dog who is terrified of them makes it difficult to enjoy the holiday. We usually spend the evenings trying to soothe Grace, and I like to head out to the barn to check on Panama around firework time.

I did go for trail rides Sunday and Monday mornings, and we spent some time this weekend with family (my mom came over Friday night, and Michael's parents came over last night). But if it's this hard to come back to work for me, I can imagine how difficult it must be for those who like to party all weekend!

How did everyone else celebrate America's birthday?

Monday, June 21, 2010

A writer's administrative duties

I had a rather harsh reminder recently not to ignore the administrative duties that comes with being a freelance writer. I used to be on top of my email inbox at all times, but in the last couple of years I have gotten pretty lax about filing client emails and deleting unimportant ones. As a result, my PST file got so big that it locked me out Saturday night.

And unfortunately, since I've also been lax about backing up my work files, I didn't have any recent (as in, newer than 6 months ago) backups.

So I spent about 15 agonizing hours trying to rescue my PST file without trimming off too much of the valuable data it contained. Every time I trimmed it, I also had to scan and repair it, so the process took a while each time. By trimming a megabyte at a time, I finally got a workable file with 10MB trimmed off.

I got lucky and it doesn't seem like I lost much, if anything at all, but I will need to be careful in the future so that it doesn't happen again. This means, however, that I need to be sure not to let myself get so busy that I don't have time for administrative tasks. I found those and housework (especially laundry!) are the first to go when I get really busy, because I sure as heck am not giving up my time with my horse. What do you give up first when you get busy? And how do you manage your time so that the tasks you don't prioritize as high still get done?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Good idea, bad writing

One of my favorite horse blogs, Fugly Horse of the Day, featured an Examiner.com article today. The premise was great — she applied to several horse rescues with made-up financial information, pictures of a property that's not hers, and even a picture of a starving horse she doesn't own. It was a great idea for investigative journalism: One rescue actually approved her, while one only denied her when they saw the picture of the horse. As she pointed out, she could have taken pictures of a beautiful property and a gorgeous horse, and they would have welcomed her with open arms, without ever checking that the property and the horse actually belonged to her.

(I'm linking to Fugly's post, by the way, NOT to the Examiner.com article. You can get there from the blog post if you want to read it, but I don't want to contribute inbound links to that site. Not that it'll make a difference, but still.)

Like I said in the title, great idea... Bad writing. The article was littered with grammatical errors, and lots of bad decisions about when to capitalize. (Seriously! Why do some people capitalize everything that seems remotely important to them?!) The writing also lacked some pizazz — the story was told pretty straightforwardly, but wasn't very compelling unless you really really care about horses. It was a great example of how poor writing can ruin a perfectly good idea.

Furthermore, I'd venture to say it was the wrong forum for investigative journalism. As much as Examiner.com likes to characterize themselves as made up of citizen journalists, I suspect they probably don't allow their "writers" to post anything negative about businesses. They are not a newspaper, so there would be too much pressure on them to take it down.

My irritation with the article made me realize that to me, poor writing trumps what site you write for. Really, if you want to write for peanuts, that's okay. Whatever. Just don't write like you are writing for peanuts!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Associated Content: SOLD!

I've been meaning to update my blog, really I have, but at the moment I have my hands full keeping up with my client work. Thank you to everyone who voiced encouragement on my last post, and know that neglecting my blog right now just means that I'm trying to focus on my other responsibilities.

Anyway, I'm blogging tonight to report a headline, hot off the press (so to speak), that I thought would interest many of my freelancers:

Denver-based web-content firm sold

Yahoo is buying Associated Content for $100 million. (Funny, AC may not believe in paying their writers much, but they sure want top dollar for their business.) Since Associated Content was Denver-based, it's big news here. I wonder if there are any local employees who will be losing their jobs over this — I know AC hires local people for their editing positions, as I interviewed for a position when the company was fairly new, and a freelance friend of mine worked there as an editor for a short time. Plus, an old high school friend of mine knows programmers who work for Associated Content in their Denver office. (They at least are well-paid, although that doesn't say much for the company, in my opinion, as it indicates how poorly they think of writers as compared to code monkeys.)

The Denver Post article includes a blogger's quote that questions Yahoo's decision, pointing out that they are polluting their content with some pretty low-quality stuff. But I can't help but wonder if AC's new owners will be able to raise the standards — and the pay — enough to salvage their reputation.

What are your thoughts? Most of us agree that low-paying freelance work has at least a minor impact on the industry as a whole — and some would argue the impact is pretty major. And Associated Content is a pretty major force in the industry, as it is the longest-surviving content site that I know of. With that in mind, do you think Yahoo's acquisition of the company will be a good thing or a bad thing for the industry in general?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Coming back is hard to do

As many of you know, I've had a difficult month. Heck, in some ways it's been a difficult year. After force-feeding my cat Prince for 5 months, we had to put him to sleep on April 15th. (Now I have yet another reason to hate Tax Day.) And that was following a week that I completely lost thanks to a burn-induced infection in my hand.

Needless to say, April wasn't a good month. I haven't had the heart to finalize the numbers yet, but preliminary counts show I made only about half of my normal income — which would make sense, considering I was out of commission, either from physical complaints or from grief, for 2 weeks out of the 4 ½ that made up the month of April.

Even though that's all over now — my hand healed long ago, and although I still miss my kitty from time to time, I think about it less frequently and with less intensity than I used to — I'm finding it hard to come back. Even though I technically went back to work on the 19th, I've been working only sporadically since then, with a lot of wasted hours and even days.

Yesterday Lori Widmer wrote a post called Do You Have What It Takes?, meaning what it takes to freelance, of course. I've never doubted that I do — I've never minded working late and pulling the occasional all-nighter in exchange for a more flexible schedule the rest of the time, and that sort of thing. But this last month, I've had to wonder: Do I have what it takes? How have I made it 4 ½ years?

I know it's been a pretty extreme month. Most of the time you aren't going to have an infection in your hand followed by having to put your cat to sleep. But we all know how bad luck can all hit at once. Unfortunately, I'm terrible at planning ahead, and I had no reserve to fall back on. My clients have been pretty understanding, but then again the show must go on, and deadlines must still be met. Sometimes I wonder, if this train is going to keep chugging onward, if it's going to roll me right under the wheels.

I'm curious whether my other full-time freelancing friends have had similar experiences, or if it's just me. Have you ever doubted your decision to freelance? Have you ever wondered how you'll make it through some crisis or another with your career still intact?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Juggling acts: Taxes, freelancing, and loss

The confusing, convoluted process that the government makes you go through to file your freelancing taxes never ceases to amaze me. I marvel at this particular one every year:

In order to complete Form 1040, I need to first complete Schedule C, to determine net business income.

In order to complete Schedule C, I need to first complete Form 4562, to determine the deduction I get to take for business equipment.

However, in order to complete Form 4562, I need to know our total gross income for the year, from the 1040.

Why could they not make this a more linear, logical process?

I had the worst April 15th of my entire life, as I had to file taxes and euthanize my beloved cat, who has been with me for 11 years this month, on the same day. As you may know from previous years, I don't usually file at the last minute, but part of the reason has been my intense focus on Prince — I've been force-feeding him for the last 5 months, and although he seemed happy up until he suddenly got dramatically worse a couple of days ago, taking care of him took up a lot of my focus and my energy.

Taxes and freelancing must go on, though. I am not taking any official break from work, though I plan to take it easy over the next few days, and of course the IRS waits for no cat. Check back for a link to my Pony Tales Blog, where I plan to write a longer post on losing Prince.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unexpected sick days...

...although "sick" doesn't quite seem to cut it.

I had quite the experience last week. Almost the entire week is a blur to me. I slept for most of it, hardly got any work done, and now I'm paying the price (late bills — since I wasn't coherent enough to pay them — and a backlog of all the work I didn't do). Luckily it was a somewhat slow week, but being out of commission for it still kicked my butt.

The story began three weeks ago from tomorrow, when I burned my hand by accidentally pouring boiling water on it while making tea. (The mug tipped while I was pouring and I reached to catch it, forgetting to stop pouring at the same time.) It hurt for a while that day, but not for all that long. I made a lot of trips to the bathroom to run cold water over it for the first couple of hours, but I popped a couple of ibuprofen and pretty soon it was just a bad memory.

The burn wasn't too bad — it didn't blister, just got crispy and peeled like a sunburn later in the week. All seemed fine. Then I started getting an itchy rash where the peeling had started. I'm not too good at not scratching (or not helping the peeling along, for that matter) so I really went to town on it for the first couple of days. Then I thought better of that, and bought some Lanacane to kill the itch.

Bad idea, as it turns out. A day and a half later, I realized my skin was turning red where I was putting the Lanacane, and my hand was starting to get a bit swollen. Oops — I guess I'm allergic? So I switched to Benadryl and started icing it to take the edge off. I also started sleeping a lot — I thought at the time because of the Benadryl, but now I think probably because the infection was getting worse.

By mid-week, I was sleeping quite a bit — after I got up in the morning, I was taking an extended nap during the day, and then falling asleep again around 9:30 in the evening (highly unusual for me). Needless to say, I wasn't getting much work done. On Thursday I went to the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics, but not much else (including information). On Friday it was still getting worse, so with my hand roughly twice its normal size and no openings at my doctor's office, I went to the ER. An hour and a half later, with an injection of antibiotics in my butt and two more prescriptions to have filled, I was home again.

The story ends well — the swelling was down on Saturday and completely gone by Sunday. I'm off the Benadryl and back on a more normal sleep schedule. Unfortunately, I have a lot of work to catch up on now — which brings me to my point.

Don't be a last minute freelancer. I'm guilty of it more often than I'd like to admit, as I'm sure many people are, but in cases like this it can really come back to bite you in the butt. This time I lucked out, as I had no looming deadlines (those are all this week) and a relatively light workload. But I still would have been much better off if I'd worked ahead the previous week, when I had the opportunity.

What about you? Do you work ahead, or tend to complete projects just under the wire? And has it ever come back to haunt you?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Roll call

Since I had to move my blog to a new address, I've noticed my traffic has taken a nose dive. I'm guessing that might be because a lot of readers were following my blog through Blogger's reader, and now that my feed address has changed, they aren't getting updates. I did set up the old address to forward to the new one, but that won't do anything for the feed.

Have you figured out my blog's new address? If so, please change the links on your own blog and, if you don't mind, post a small announcement so that others can find me again. Thanks so much!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More on the Colorado-Amazon battle

No answers yet on what will happen with the Colorado sales tax bill that Amazon is protesting. However, there have been lots of articles on the subject in our local paper, some of them quite interesting.

For example, there is a fantastic editorial on Amazon's decision to fire Colorado-based affiliates, in which the author calls Amazon "evil." Amen!

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don't agree, and it sounds like they are causing some trouble at the capital. I fervently hope the state legislature won't give in to these folks, who have been manipulated into doing Amazon's dirty work for them (when by all rights they should be spending their time finding alternative affiliate programs and getting their businesses back on track!). I really don't want Amazon to win this one — they need to be taken down a notch, in my opinion, and I'd really like to see my state be the one to do it!

I urge my fellow writers, readers, and bloggers to do something about this. Obviously we can't take down Amazon amongst ourselves, but we can give our money to hardworking local businesses and honest, reputable chains instead of Amazon!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Alternatives for Colorado-based Amazon affiliates

Every since Amazon behaved badly Monday morning by firing Colorado-based affiliates, I've been dealing with the fallout. I decided pretty quickly that I was done with an Amazon — as an affiliate as well as a consumer — and immediately started looking for new affiliate programs for my book review blog, wedding blog, and doll repair blog.

My first thought was to apply for the Barnes & Noble affiliate program. Ironically, I joined their program back when I first joined Amazon, but ended up going with the latter because their system was easier to use. The B&N affiliate program is different now — it's part of the Google Affiliate Network, which includes many more affiliate programs than just Barnes & Noble — and I was pleased to find that the new system is just as user-friendly as Amazon's. And personally, I like the overall results much better — I think the larger image of the book cover provides a much cleaner look than Amazon's ad.

I applied for the program Monday afternoon, and by Monday evening had an acceptance. I immediately changed the book links in the sidebars of all my blogs except my wedding blog (that one is still on my to-do list). Yesterday I also applied for a couple of other advertisers in the program, and set up a few other affiliate ads for my blog about feline hepatic lipidosis.

On Tuesday, I got a recommendation to try the Powells.com partner program. I signed up and was able to get started right away. This system is even more user-friendly than the Google Affiliate Network, and I like it considerably better than Amazon's program. I especially like the fact that Powell's buys used books online — they pay the shipping too. You can check out the program by clicking the link in the sidebar, under the ad for the book I'm currently reading.

Yesterday, I changed over a number of my more recent links on my book review blog. I still have a lot to do though, and I expect it to be a few more days before I am done switching over to the new affiliate programs.

The best thing about these two programs is how much easier payment is than Amazon. With Amazon, if you want cash you have to wait until you reach $100 in commissions, which takes a while for someone like me, for whom the income is only supplementary. But it seems like the businesses in the Google Affiliate Network pay after a set number of days — e.g., 30, 60, or 90 days — while Powell's pays at the end of the quarter where you reach $25. Plus, the Google Affiliate Network (which I keep wanting to call GAN!) links up with your Google AdSense account, which is pretty convenient.

My point is that there are many options for former Colorado-based Amazon affiliates. Much better options with more honest companies, if you ask me. Personally, even if Amazon reinstates the Colorado affiliates (which I really think they will, whether or not the Colorado legislature calls their bluff — they can't give up all those referrals!), I could never trust them again after this. But I feel much more secure after signing up for affiliate programs I like, with businesses I respect. If you ask me, Amazon did me a favor!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Has Amazon gotten too big for its britches?

This morning I woke up to find an email from Amazon, stating that they were closing the accounts for all Colorado-based affiliates. Apparently the Colorado legislature passed a bill that would require Amazon to collect sales tax for Colorado sales.


Dear Colorado-based Amazon Associate:
We are writing from the Amazon Associates Program to inform you that the Colorado government recently enacted a law to impose sales tax regulations on online retailers. The regulations are burdensome and no other state has similar rules. The new regulations do not require online retailers to collect sales tax. Instead, they are clearly intended to increase the compliance burden to a point where online retailers will be induced to "voluntarily" collect Colorado sales tax -- a course we won't take.

We and many others strongly opposed this legislation, known as HB 10-1193, but it was enacted anyway. Regrettably, as a result of the new law, we have decided to stop advertising through Associates based in Colorado. We plan to continue to sell to Colorado residents, however, and will advertise through other channels, including through Associates based in other states.

There is a right way for Colorado to pursue its revenue goals, but this new law is a wrong way. As we repeatedly communicated to Colorado legislators, including those who sponsored and supported the new law, we are not opposed to collecting sales tax within a constitutionally-permissible system applied even-handedly. The US Supreme Court has defined what would be constitutional, and if Colorado would repeal the current law or follow the constitutional approach to collection, we would welcome the opportunity to reinstate Colorado-based Associates.

You may express your views of Colorado's new law to members of the General Assembly and to Governor Ritter, who signed the bill.

Your Associates account has been closed as of March 8, 2010, and we will no longer pay advertising fees for customers you refer to Amazon.com after that date. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned prior to March 8, 2010, will be processed and paid in accordance with our regular payment schedule. Based on your account closure date of March 8, any final payments will be paid by May 31, 2010.

We have enjoyed working with you and other Colorado-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program, and wish you all the best in your future.


Best Regards,

The Amazon Associates Team



At first, I was angry at the legislature for passing the bill. But a few things started to occur to me:

1) Amazon totally misrepresented the bill in their email. Basically, the bill states that if an out-of-state retailer has Colorado-based affiliates soliciting business for them, they are responsible for collecting Colorado sales tax. The bill also states provides recourse if a business that fits this description refuses to collect sales tax. You can see the full text, along with all the revisions, here.

2) Amazon isn't trying to protect affiliates. They are simply trying to avoid having to collect sales tax. They don't even have to pay the sales tax, just collect and track it, and they are still willing to throw their affiliates under the bus to avoid doing so.

3) It was Amazon's decision to dump their Colorado-based affiliates. Not the Colorado legislature's. In fact, the latter tried to write the bill so that it would protect the affiliates. So if I want to be angry with someone, it should be Amazon, not our lawmakers.

4) This is hardly Amazon's first instance of trying to throw their weight around in order to another entity to do something that benefits them, Amazon. Two years ago they tried to force POD publishers to use their printer, BookSurge, in order to sell self-published books on their site. Booklocker sued Amazon under the antitrust laws, which Amazon settled back in January. Also in January, Amazon turned off the "Buy" buttons for MacMillan titles in an effort to force the major publishing company to sell their ebooks for $9.99 or less. MacMillan refused, and Amazon gave in, restoring the Buy buttons on the publisher's titles. And supposedly, Amazon has intervened in other states with similar sales tax legislation — in those cases, with more success.

So when I finally wrote to the governor and representatives, it wasn't to complain — as Amazon wanted — but to say that I hoped they didn't give in to Amazon's bullying tactics. No corporation should be able to strongarm legislation like that.

Here are a few links with more information on the situation:

Amazon.com Associates Central discussion thread
Amazon Pulls Affiliates Out of Colorado, Gov. Ritter Responds
Amazon fires Colorado affiliates in protest
Colorado Lawmakers Ruin My Amazon Affiliate Sales (Be sure to read the comments!)
Amazon Fires Its Colorado Associates (Another blog post with a very heated comment thread)
Amazon.com needlessly fires affiliates in tantrum over tax law

I'm done with Amazon, even if they restore Colorado-based affiliates. (I expect they will, because it doesn't sound like the Colorado legislature will give in — good for them! — and Amazon won't want to lose all those referrals permanently.) I'm in the process of finding an affiliate program to replace Amazon on my websites, and in the meantime I'll be slowly taking down my Amazon links.

I'm also done buying from Amazon, and I encourage others to do the same. There are much worthier businesses to support, both online and locally!

Update 3/9/2010 1:00 am:

In reading the last couple of links listed above, I found out something interesting: The version of the bill I linked to is not the most recent. So far I haven't found the version of the bill that was passed, but apparently it removed all references to affiliates — in other words, it made it so that having affiliates in Colorado had nothing to do with Amazon's responsibilities under the law. Furthermore, they are not required to collect sales tax, only to notify Colorado customers that sales tax is owed.

One of the representatives I wrote to this afternoon wrote back to say that in actuality, sales tax is always owed on Internet purchases — this bill just requires online retailers to notify customers of this fact, since most people don't realize it.

I'll update with more information as I get it, so be sure to check this post again later!

Update 3/9/2010 1:26 am:

I believe that this is the most recent version of HB 10-1193. As you can see, no mention of affiliates.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

...accomplished!

I've finished switching my blogs over to Custom Domain publishing — all except for DollStringing.com. (That one will be more complicated, because of the way I integrated it with the website. I could have done it too tonight, but I'm afraid I just ran out of steam.)

I foresee two problems. One, as I already mentioned, the URL for the site feed is going to change. Be sure to update your reader or re-follow me.

Two — and this one is more serious — I was unable to forward visitors to my old pages to the new blog. Most likely my only choice here — if I want to fix the problem, of course — will be to write the html myself and create forwarding pages for every. single. blog. post. I've. ever. written.

Yeah, I'm not thinking that's very likely. Anyone remember how to Google to see who is linking to me out there? It would be nice if I could just create forwarding pages for the URLs people are actually linking to.

Anyway, let me know if you find anything else that is problematic. It was a big job, one I spent most of my afternoon on, so I won't be surprised at all if I missed something!

Changes...

It seems that Blogger is soon to stop offering publishing via FTP. This is frustrating to me, since that's how I've published my blogs since I started this one in late 2005. I can switch to their Custom Domains and still publish to the same domain names I've always used, which will mean some tinkering to make my pictures show up, but no changes from the reader's point of view.

The one exception is this blog. Because I've been publishing to a folder rather than a subdomain, my blog URL is going to have to change — instead of www.katharineswan.com/blog.html, it will be http://blog.katharineswan.com. I'll be sure to set up forwarding so that you still get here, but I think it will change where the RSS and XML file is located. That means that if you "follow" my blog or use a reader to get my posts, you'll need to update it so your reader is looking for new posts in the right place.

The only other issue is that my blog will be down for a few hours as I get the DNS path changed over, and images may be down a bit longer (depending on how savvy I am at figuring out how to get them back). I should be doing this either today or tomorrow. I'll post again and let you know once everything is put to rights!

Monday, February 08, 2010

A year ago today

Today I was thinking about where I was this year at this time — with my business, I mean. There was a lot of talk about the economy and the recession last winter, and my January income was pretty short. That wasn't unusual in itself — the first month of the year is typically pretty slow for me — but then February was short too.

Also this time last year, I was getting ready for a trip to Haworth and London at the very beginning of March. You can read all about my adventures here:

The longest day of my life
My working vacation
Advantages and disadvantages of the handheld laptop
Literary travels: A writer's journey, part I
Inspiration: A writer's journey, part 2
A writer's journey, part 3

Fast forward to 2010. January proved to be a bit more lucrative, and February is shaping up to be the same. Still not raking in the dough, but then I never am this time of year. I am making more time for my horse now than I was a year ago, though, which is a good thing. I am also having to make time to force-feed a sick cat, which isn't such a good thing — although of course I would never choose the alternative.

Another major difference is that I'm making more of a commitment to work on my fiction now than I was this time last year. During NaNoWriMo, I worked on the novel I'd started during our trip to Europe in March. I'm still not quite done with it, but now that Kathy Kehrli and I are doing virtual write-ins once a week (when we can manage it), I'm at least moving ahead at a regular (if slow) pace.

This year has begun a bit differently than usual. No New Year's resolutions, and I haven't done monthly assessments on my blog in quite a while. I feel a bit like I'm surfing from month to month, wave to wave, with hardly time to do anything except a few things I force myself to make time for (riding being one of them). Not even my blogs are getting as much attention as they used to.

In some ways, I like the changes between this year and last. Spending more time with both my horse and my novel are major advantages to the harried schedule I've been keeping, and of course nursing my cat is a necessity. But I'd also like to do some more marketing and update my website (finally), and I'm honestly not sure how I'll find the time for either.

How about you? How has your business — and your life — changed from this time last year?

Monday, January 25, 2010

A day of reading, writing, and rest (...and errands and laundry)

Most weekdays, I get on the computer for an hour or so after I get up, and then head out to the barn. Today, however, I was feeling like I needed to get a jump start on my work for the week, so I decided to forego my ride.

Here's what is on my list for today:

* Blogging (check)
* A few content articles for a client
* Planning/brainstorming an article for another client
* Laundry (the bane of my existence)
* Mail a book and pick up a few books from the library
* Work on my novel, if I have time

I'm also thinking that I'll take advantage of some of the extra time, since I'm not going out to the barn, and read for a little while. It's not often that I read during the day when I should be working, so every once in a while I have to break down and do it.

Of course, putting my novel last on the list is a good way to end up pushing it back a day (or more), but luckily I think Michael has homework to do tonight, which should allow me to work a bit later today.

What is (or was) on your to-do list for today?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fits and starts

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been working on my novel again. With one exception (Thursday night I added 800 words to it), the only work I've done on it has been on Saturdays, when Kathy Kehrli and I do our virtual write-in. Last Saturday I only added 400 words, but today I did much better: 1,061 words.

The weekly write-in prevents me from getting too far away from the novel, so that the trail doesn't get cold, so to speak. It's far from ideal, though. Kathy and I were talking today about trying to write every day, and it got me to thinking about how I could work that into my schedule.

Those of you who read my blog frequently know that I do the occasional experiment in increasing my productivity, which is something I really struggle with as a freelancer. Right now I've been wondering if a more regimented daily schedule would help. I don't usually operate on a schedule, but lately I've been letting the barn eat up a lot of my work time during the day — not something I regret, but not exactly conducive to getting lots of work done, either.

So I'm pondering how I could make up a daily schedule that would help me to get more done in a day. In addition to barn time and client work, I would ideally schedule time every day for novel writing and blogging (another thing I've struggled with finding time for lately). The challenge is that I really need to be able to go to the barn during the morning, when it is relatively quiet, yet Michael's presence in the evening makes it hard to just extend my work day out a little.

I'll let you know what I come up with.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Back to work on my novel...

After over a month of neglect, I've finally gotten back to work on my NaNoWriMo novel. Fellow freelancer and friend Kathy Kehrli and I are scheduling virtual write-ins together using Facebook chat — by having a predetermined time when we both have committed to sitting down and right, we'll both (theoretically) have the motivation we need to continue working on our novels.

Yesterday's write-in wasn't wildly successful — we spent some time catching up via chat, rather than writing — but it did succeed in breaking the ice, so to speak, and getting me working on my novel again. The night before, I started thinking about where I wanted to pick up and what I wanted to write, so I was ready to go by the time we started writing. And once the juices started flowing, I was able to continue writing sporadically for a couple of hours after we both signed off from Facebook.

All said and done, I added 1,938 words to my rough draft yesterday. Not a huge amount, considering I worked on it for several hours, but the real accomplishment was getting back to work on it again. Not to mention I got to update my word count meter for the first time in over a month!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Starting off 2010 right!

Several of my blogging buddies have descried making New Year's resolutions this year. I'm undecided as to whether I will — I haven't met them the last couple of years, but it still seems like a good "year in review" topic for my blog.

One thing I did decide to do was start off 2010 the right way: clean and organized! This afternoon I cleaned my desk, and what was covered in stacks of papers up to a foot high (!), now looks like this:

Clean desk of a freelance writer

My inbox is still a bit full, but the fact that you can actually see the surface of my desk is a vast improvement.

I also made all my files for 2010, did a few last things to organize my files from 2009, and planned a fun book giveaway for my horse blog. An uncharacteristically motivated way to begin the year!